It’s Not So Bad (Panic Attacks, Sharks & Other Fun Things.)

There is a direct correlation between my levels of unhappiness, my current relationship status and whatever financial black-hole I’m trying desperately to claw my way out of. I used to carry my bad mood around as if it was the festering corpse of a rotting animal; you could practically smell the negativity from a mile away. Now I don’t. I write about it, about my problems, sure, but I don’t verbally articulate how I feel. Why? Because, really, I can’t be bothered, and honestly, who wants to hear that?

How vocal I am about my level of unhappiness depends to who I am talking too. If it’s my dad or blood relatives, then I mostly say I am fine. Since I’m not sucking dick for heroin, doing needle drugs and I’ve not become a stripper then things never appear to be that bad in their eyes – despite them feeling THAT bad in my head. If it’s friends from back home or that live elsewhere, then perhaps I’ll let a little bit of truth trickle out during the conversation. Mostly though they are so engrossed in their own lives that I don’t see the point in trying to navigate the conversation away from them. All they see is my nice flat, my alright job and my skinny physique. What do I have to be sad about? If it is my inner circle, my close friends, then they know that at any given point I feel like I’m wondering down a dank and dark alley way in a harrowing storm, totally alone, dripping wet, cold, probably listening to some emo music or obscure soundtrack.  My best friends know that my head is minefield of terrible guys I shouldn’t be thinking about; they know that I am drinking too much because I am down. They know that look in my eye when I must stop and take an extra ten minutes to myself to try and talk myself out of a suicide attempt.

When I’m going through an existential crisis or a moment of weakness I feel as though I am choking. When I was younger this mood would come on strong and fast, but it be over with just as quickly as it crept in. Now, as an adult, it sneaks up on me. It builds over the period of a few days then before I know I’m waking up drenched in sweat and screaming. I feel as though the entire room is closing in on me; that something is sitting on my chest. Each time I have a panic attack I lay there waiting to die, but always I keep living. It takes a solid twenty minutes of pacing and drinking water to calm myself down, to fend off the seemingly relentless sense of dread that’s wrapped itself around me. In my mind, I know this is a panic attack, but my entire body is revolting against me. It has finally broken down and succumbed to the tyranny of my socially anxious stupid brain.

Most days I am fine. I get up, I exercise, I go to work. Occasionally someone will piss me off at work, but my current employment is retail so irksome people are a given. Nothing too bad ever happens. On darker days though everything seems bleak. Everything is too much to handle. I start thinking about my future, what am I doing with my life? Where will I be in five, hell even two, years? This is a very long road to wonder down alone, what if I never meet someone to travel it with? How can I possibly reach the destination when I don’t even know where it is I am meant to be going? These thoughts bounce up and down on my brain, like hyperactive children on a bouncy castle. I try very hard to paint a good image of myself to the world – friends and co-workers – but some days it is harder than others. I like to think that I am that writer who carries the weight of human suffering solely on his shoulders, but the truth is I am quite a strong and resilient person; optimistic even. I’ve had weeks where it feels as though I’ve been booted in the balls (metaphorically and literally) and I’ve tried my hardest to wallow and brood, but I wind up having a pizza or going a long run and suddenly I’m back on track. There are bad periods though where I don’t trust myself to be alone, nor do I trust the thoughts that my brain is being poisoned with. My ability to make rationale, sensible decisions is temporarily disabled and a lot of the time my head starts barking ridiculous ideas at me. Very, very bad ideas.

When I tell my close friends that I am depressed I never open with ‘yeah, I’m considering hanging myself tonight’ because that just seems, I don’t know, too dramatic even if it is very true. I tell them I’m depressed and their eyes roll. “Oh, me too, I’m so down cause of *boyfriends name*.” “Everybody gets depressed, you’re in your twenties it’s normal. You got this.” It’s not that I don’t appreciate their optimism, but I call bullshit. You are having a bad day, you are perhaps unhappy and emotional, sure. The level of depression you’re feeling though, well, it doesn’t match the demon I’m trying to fight. If it did you wouldn’t be so blasé about it. Since nobody seems well versed in the kind of blinding, screaming despair and panic I’m currently trapped in I turn to the internet for suggestions and remedies.

I’ve tried loads of different ways to try combat my depression; explored various avenues to find cures for my panic attacks. One idea that was pitched to me, that I never bought into, was having a drink or two every night. Great, what a perfect way to kick-start that drinking problem I’ve been meaning to develop. On paper it made sense; a couple of drinks could mellow me out. But I’ve seen how quickly booze can become a crutch. My issues seem to love the taste of vodka, I think. I have of course tried this drinking alone and tackling my fears and concerns myself, but it never played out well. It always started with a couple of drinks but before I know it half the bottle is gone, I’m peeing every five minutes and I am more than a little drunk. I wind up sitting crossed legged on the floor, listening to Evanescence or Sarah McLachlan and sobbing. I start trying to FaceTime people and looking up exes on Facebook. Before I know it, Adele’s provocative vocals are luring water out of my tear ducks and I’m wailing hysterically into my laptop screen as I look at photos of days gone by with the boy I once loved. I woke the next day to a voicemail from my ex and three slightly-charming, and weirdly-sweet texts of concern following my 3am phone call to him, of which I remember nothing. Drinking alone? Not the one.

Meditation and yoga were other suggestions I’ve tried. Well, them and masturbating. I know from (much) personal experience one of these doesn’t really relieve much tension and is in fact a very fleeting solution. The Mediation part I enjoyed, even though trying to get someone who over-analyses everything to shut down his mind for anything more than two micro-seconds is redundant. I didn’t invest as much time in Yoga as I should have. Partly because I kept picture Madonna and how uppity she gets about it. I tried a few poses but it didn’t really end well. I am quite bratty when it comes to trying new things; meaning that if I am not immediately good at whatever it is I am trying then it’s obviously stupid and nobody should do it. Ever. What followed where some very non-relaxing, non-chi Tweets. Tweets that were absolutely dripping with rage.

I’ve since tried and tested other methods to help combat the insidious beast that is depression. I am on medication, but half the time I think all that does is alleviate (some of) my suicidal tendencies and stop me trying to chew off my own arm. I took up running and exercise, both of which do help reduce my boiling, over-heating mind to a simmer. There was one time running didn’t work out for me though. It got to the stage that every time I felt a panic attack coming on or I got worked up I would just shove on my running gear, stretch (no yoga) and go out a run. There was a particularly bad month where I was suffering through the end of a relationship, having issues at work and was so poor I was considering peddling a kidney on the black market. During that period, I also developed a chest infection. I chose to ignore the coughing, spluttering and general feelings of death that lurked over me and kept going out running, until one day at work I collapsed and woke up in hospital. Turns out I had pneumonia and fluid in my lungs so that was me out of the game for a while.

I think wading through the murky waters of adulthood seems a lot harder than it really is because of my mental health issues. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in an ocean of bills, that I have no friends. That if I suffer one more heartache then I’m going to cave my head in with a rock. When depression capsizes my boat and hurls into the freezing water I see myself as having two choices: Sink or swim. Sure, the waters may seem shark infested and bottomless, but if I can keep myself grounded, force myself to acknowledge that what I am feeling is (mostly) chemical then I get through it. Eventually I find that I don’t need to splash and flounder around; eventually I realise that my feet can touch the ground.  I can get through today, I think. And if I manage today then I can survive tomorrow, and the day after.

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